Toby Young’s spurious claim that the BBC’s election coverage had a left-wing bias

The columnist will only be happy when we stop worrying and love the Tories


Columnist Toby Young has manufactured a huff about the BBC’s coverage of the general election. In a piece for the Mail on Sunday he complained the coverage betrayed the public broadcaster’s left-wing bias. His evidence is, to say the least, a bit thin.

He begins by saying the BBC hosts of the election result were surprised by the exit poll showing a much better result for the Tories and a much worse result for Labour than they expected.

If this is true, it’s no less true for any other broadcaster or anyone else, since the exit poll results were so different to what most people expected based on the neck-and-neck poll results we had seen for weeks.

Having set up a false premise, Young warms to his theme:

“The reason the election result must have come as such a shock to the high-ups at the BBC is because its coverage of Ed Miliband and Labour has been so sympathetic for the past five years. Scarcely a week passed without a ‘yoof’ documentary on BBC3 about food banks or ‘the bedroom tax’ – in reality, a benefit cut – while the news that two million jobs had been created since 2010 hardly got a look in.”

You will notice how Young slips from talking about pro-Labour bias to the BBC covering stories he’d rather not be covered, because they reflect badly on the government. It’s possible he can’t tell the difference, but what’s more likely is he elides the two things on purpose.

The last point about jobs is more disturbing, in that it sounds as if he won’t be happy until the BBC is running pro-government propaganda. Just imagine what a programme about jobs being ‘created’ by the Tories could possibly be like and you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, even our Toby can’t avoid facts, so he puts them in – in order to dismiss them.

“There are some honourable exceptions – David Dimbleby, Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson are all fantastic broadcasters who take their duty of impartiality seriously.”

What he means is they’re as left-wing as Downton Abbey.

Andrew Neil, who conducted most of the interviews during the BBC coverage (and is a good and equal-opportunity interviewer), is a former editor of the Sunday Times  and current chairman of the Spectator. Robinson was a youth activist for the Conservative party. Dimbleby, who studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, as did Robinson, was a member of the Bullingdon Club, and is well known to be literally the voice of authority and fusty tradition as a fixture of BBC reverence.

Andrew Marr, who Young doesn’t mention but who was on the BBC panel for most of the night, is a monarchist and master of giving front bench politicians an easy ride. (That’s why they go on his programme.)

Does Toby Young ever pause to wonder why so many hosts on the supposedly left-wing BBC are obvious conservatives?

Young closes with a hint at why he was commissioned by the Mail to write this piece:

The Beeb’s Royal Charter is coming up for renewal next year, and that will be a golden opportunity to expose the Flat Earth Society to the commercial realities of the digital age.

It will be interesting to see how many more seats the Tories will win in 2020 if they’re competing on a level playing field.”

It’s pretty remarkable to look at the British media and complain the deck is stacked against the right. Aside from the newspapers – almost all of which are very right-wing, and two of which are liberal on some issues – the BBC itself actually shares and trades in a number of right-wing assumptions – about the economy, about the monarchy, about Europe etc. But this is irrelevant when it comes to writers like Toby Young.

We heard these menacing noises about charter renewal when the BBC rightly sacked Jeremy Clarkson (another conservative) for punching a co-worker.

Mr Young, a leader of the Tories’ free schools ‘revolution’, having failed to provide any evidence of active left-wingery at the Beeb, sounds like what he really wants is for the broadcaster to realise how wonderful the Tories are and conduct themselves accordingly. Because in a ‘level playing field’, how could anyone not vote Tory?

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter


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